A handful of restaurants in downtown New Orleans are making the most out of the challenges brought by the pandemic by transforming parking lanes into stylish, outdoor seating (parklets), reports a nola.com feature.
These “parklets” or mini-restaurant patios have been rising in popularity long before the restrictions placed back in March, as they allow for a quaint, atmospheric extension of traditional restaurant seating that’s ideal for the spacing needed to continue to serve with the city’s phase-dependent restrictions.
One such restaurant in the downtown area is the Pythian Market with its variety of vendors serving various flavors in dishes ranging from poke bowls to fried chicken. This classic Crescent City food hall now acts similar to an outdoor mall food court, albeit with more sophistication, in that a customer can order from their preferred vendor and enjoy their meal in the new dining area built across the parking lane. Not only does this add more outdoor seating, but the visibility of the dishes, food hall, and enjoyment of the dishes by the customer base is boosted to those passing by.
Set outside the food hall’s doors between deactivated parking meters are burly traffic barriers, designating the space where patrons may enjoy their poboys and wood-fire pizza under a charming collection of string lights and umbrellas. These parklets, a term coined by urban planning etymology, offer a glimpse into a trend that could l soon be much more popular around New Orleans, as these curbside patios are part of grants introduced by NOLA Outdoor Dining to assist restaurants during the pandemic.
This program that clearly recognizes the immense value of New Orleans’ restaurant scene allows for restaurants and bars to apply for Outdoor Dining Grants that expand outdoor seating with the addition of sidewalk cafés, courtyards, and off-street parking dining areas at restaurants. When this idea was first revealed, the city’s director of economic development, Jeff Schwartz said that the aim of the $100,000 allotted for Phase Two’s grants was to use the public right of way to make the city’s business framework more versatile and pedestrian-friendly as well as asiss businesses immediately.
Michael DePaolo, the managing director at Pythian Market said of the recent additions, “we’ve seen how people gravitate to our sidewalk seating, and we think this will add to it. We really want to provide an environment where people feel as safe as possible to come out and enjoy what our vendors are doing here.”
While parklets are already quite common in other cities, especially those overseas, New Orleans’ parklet concept has become somewhat of a symbol of the types of creative adaptations taken by a city during the pandemic. The effort to expand outdoor seating in the city is beginning in strategic stages, beginning in the Central Business District with restaurants like Pythian Market, Juan’s Flying Burrito, the Ruby Slipper Cafe, and Fourth Wall Coffee being among the first to benefit.
Co-founder of the Ruby Slipper, Jennifer Weishaupt, was eager to volunteer her cafe to help pilot the program, as she’s seen pallets used in great success in other cities when traveling this past summer. After the initial success, Weishaupt is even considering adding another parklet at another Ruby Slipper location up the street in the Irish Channel, saying, “we’ve seen that there’s exceptionally high demand for outdoor seating. It’s where a lot of people feel most comfortable.”
Part of what makes the effort so successful is the coming together of various New Orleans leaders, business owners, officials, and organizations like the Downtown Development District, who has been working alongside the city to loan out planter boxes, lights, and other furnishings to make the pivot comfortable and unique to the traditional New Orleans style.
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